How Guardianship Works in Colorado for Children & Families


The Colorado guardianship process gives families a way to care for their loved ones when a gap in the usual care pattern arises. An adult can ask for legal decision-making authority for adults or minors by petitioning the court.

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When deciding whether to appoint a guardian, the court considers the respondent’s needs and the nominee’s ability to meet those needs. As a result, anyone pursuing guardianship in Colorado should expect the court to review their background and qualifications. 

While the court doesn’t require certain levels of wealth or education (those who love the respondent often make the very best guardians) the court is required to ensure that the person they appoint can fulfill the role's responsibilities.

What Types of Guardianship Exist in Colorado?

Protective proceedings in Colorado fall into a few different categories.

First, guardianships and conservatorships provide different powers. Guardianships deal with medical and care decision-making, while conservatorships focus on only financial decision-making. Guardians can have day-to-day financial powers for smaller amounts if the ward has few assets and little income. 

Next, Colorado offers guardianships and conservatorships of varying lengths. Emergency appointments expire after 60 days. Temporary guardianships and conservatorships last up to six months. Permanent appointments last indefinitely for adults. For minors, guardianship ends automatically when the child turns 18. Conservatorships terminate at the child’s 21st birthday. 

Guardianships and conservatorships can also be full or limited appointments. Full guardianships and conservatorships give all the possible powers described in the statutes to the fiduciary. However, the court tries to issue a limited guardianship or conservatorship to help the protected person keep as much of their autonomy and decision-making as possible.  

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Who Are the Default Guardians for Minor Children, Older Adults, or Adults With Special Needs in Colorado?

While nobody automatically becomes a guardian in Colorado based on relationship alone, the court applies a priority system to help vet guardian and conservator candidates when more than one person wants to be appointed. 

However, priority provides a boost in the process, not a guarantee. The court decides who to appoint based on the respondent’s best interests. The best interests standard requires a global analysis of both the respondent's needs and any potential guardian’s ability to meet those needs.

The highest priority goes to someone nominated in writing to be a guardian or conservator. Adults can nominate their guardians in their wills or other written instruments, and they can also nominate them for their minor children in the same way. 

Generally, people who take the time to choose their own guardian select someone thoughtful, competent, and trustworthy. As a result, the court typically finds that a nominated guardian is in the respondent’s best interests. 

After nominations, family members have priority based on lineal connection, with spouses having the highest priority. 

What Forms Do You Need to File for Guardianship in Colorado?

You can download and print all the forms you need for free online for both guardianship and conservatorship.

The court requires four forms to start a case – the petition, acceptance of appointment, letters, and proposed order. Different petitions, letters, and orders exist for each case type, so you’ll select your forms based on whether you are doing a guardianship or conservatorship and whether the cases are for an adult or minor. 

Although not necessary to file your case, you’ll need to start working on compiling your Colorado background check and credit report right away. The court needs these documents before holding the hearing, so delays in getting these documents can slow down your case. 

The court also requires a physician’s letter for adult guardianship cases. The court might not let your case move forward without the letter. It should describe the respondent’s condition and need for a guardian and be dated within the past six months. 

How Do You File for Guardianship in Colorado?

You can take your paperwork to the courthouse to file or file electronically online to start your case. You file in the district court for the county where the respondent lives. Or, if you’re only filing a conservatorship, you can file in the district court for the county where the respondent owns property. 

How Do You Assign a Guardian for a Minor Child in Colorado?

Colorado allows for the testamentary appointment of a guardian for a minor. A child’s parents can nominate a guardian for their kids, and then that guardianship can take effect when the parent dies. The nominee can also ask the court to confirm the appointment if the parent becomes severely ill, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to take care of their children. 

Sometimes parents need guardianships in less dire circumstances, and parent participation in the guardianship process makes it go more smoothly. For example, a parent can file a petition for the appointment of a guardian nominating someone else to take care of their kids – just be sure that the person you nominate is willing to accept the role. 

Or, if someone else filed the petition for the appointment of a guardian, a parent can sign a consent form to officially let the court know that they agree with the request. 

Finally, Colorado also offers a delegation of parental responsibilities form. Most people are familiar with a power of attorney, and this form is like a power of attorney but specifically regarding children’s issues. The delegation does not go through the court at all and can be revoked by the parent at any time. 

Remember that nominating or assigning a guardian for your kids does not circumvent the other parent’s rights or existing custody order.

How Guardianship Works for Minor Children

If filing a guardianship case for minor children seems like a good fit for your situation, here are a few more details to help you get started. 

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Guardianship for minor children

Guardianship cases for children give the powers of a parent to a non-parent. You can file them in the district court where the child is present – there are no residency requirements for minor guardianship cases. 

Some people ask for emergency guardianship simply because a child was left with them with no parent around. The court applies an imminent danger standard to emergency proceedings, so be prepared to explain why you need legal authority in a few days versus a few weeks. 

To appoint a guardian, the court has to find that the appointment is in the child’s best interests and that the parents are unwilling or unable to take care of the child. Permanent guardianships last until the child turns 18. However, the parents or another adult can ask the court to end the guardianship earlier if something changes. 

Compared to adult cases, minor guardianship cases can proceed relatively quickly, depending on the court’s availability. After filing the required paperwork, you can set a hearing. Assuming nobody objects to the appointment, the case can be finished in just a few weeks.

Conservatorship for minor children

In Colorado, children cannot accept or independently manage property worth more than $10,000. While most kids’ piggy banks don’t come anywhere near that, children can become independently wealthy through inheritance, personal injury settlements, or other windfalls.

Parents often learn of the need for conservatorship when the insurance company or other entity paying their child asks for proof of conservatorship to release the fund. Some states call a conservatorship guardianship of the estate, so out-of-state companies might ask for proof of guardianship, but Colorado courts use the term conservatorship. 

Conservatorships for minors come in a couple of different types. The court might grant a single-transaction conservatorship to allow the conservator to accept and then deposit funds on behalf of the minor. For those cases, the annual accounting is straightforward and easy to complete. 

For conservatorships holding more money or where the money is being used, the court establishes a permanent conservatorship. They function much like adult conservatorships. The conservator provides an inventory and financial plan to the court for its approval.  Then, they file an annual accounting each year to account for any monies spent. 

Conservatorships terminate when the child turns 21. After that, the court must approve any use of the funds. Typically, the conservator cannot use the child’s assets for normal support of the child that falls within the parents’ responsibilities.

How Guardianship Works for Older Adults

When you petition the court for guardianship or conservatorship, the form asks whether you want an emergency, temporary, or permanent guardianship. You can ask for more than one at a time, like an emergency and permanent appointment at the same time. 

Guardianships for older adults

After the court receives the documents needed to open your case, it appoints a court visitor. The court visitor interviews the respondent, the person asking to be appointed, and other interested parties. Then, the visitor writes a report to the court with their recommendations about whether it should appoint a guardian. The petitioner pays the court visitor’s fees.

The court also appoints an attorney or guardian ad litem for the respondent if they object to the appointment of a guardian or if they request an attorney. The respondent pays the attorney’s fees. 

After the visitor files a report and you’ve filed all the required documents, the court holds a hearing to decide whether to appoint a guardian. During the hearing, you will have the opportunity to explain why you think one is necessary and make your case for why you should be the one appointed. 

After being appointed, the guardian files annual reports about the respondent’s condition with the court.

Conservatorship for older adults

The process for getting a conservator follows that of guardianship. The court appoints a court visitor and can also name an attorney or guardian ad litem for the respondent, if necessary.

You can file petitions for both conservatorship and guardianship for the same respondent at once. You can save the time and money of going through multiple court visitor appointments and the hearing process.

Soon after the appointment, the new conservator provides an inventory and financial plan to the court for its approval. The report details the protected person’s income and assets and proposes a plan for their support. 

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How Guardianship Works for Adults With Developmental Disabilities or Special Needs

Guardianships and conservatorships for adults with special needs follow the same procedure as those for older adults. Expect the court to appoint a visitor, and they will also appoint an attorney if the respondent objects to the appointment. 

The court can appoint a guardian or conservator for an adult starting on the respondent’s 18th birthday. Many people end up with a court-appointed guardian or conservator for decades, so consider nominating a successor guardian to take over for you when you become unable. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Guardianship in Colorado

Each court operates a self-help center with staff that can educate you about your case options. Check with your local court or consult with an experienced probate attorney for more specific questions.

How long is temporary guardianship in Colorado?

A temporary guardianship lasts up to six months for both adults and minors. 

What’s the difference between guardianship, conservatorship, and custody in Colorado?

Conservatorship cases deal exclusively with money and financial issues. A parent or other adult can ask the court to appoint them as a minor’s conservator so that they can accept and manage money and property on behalf of a child. 

Guardianship and custody cases both deal with the care of a child. Custody cases typically take place between parents. They can be standalone cases or part of the parents’ divorce case. Alternatively guardianship cases give care and decision-making orders to a non-parent.

While custody cases can involve shared parenting time schedules, guardianships grant the care of a child to just one guardian – or a pair of co-guardians if requested. 

Can you get guardianship without going to court in Colorado?

Only the court can appoint a guardian. Parents can nominate a guardian for their children in their will, but that guardian still has to go to the court to have their appointment confirmed.

Consider Less Restrictive Alternatives

Guardianships and conservatorships provide the most restrictive options for caring for loved ones. For adults, they take away the right to make personal life decisions. And, for minor cases, they give a parent’s authority to someone else, sometimes until a child reaches adulthood. 

For both adults and children, several less restrictive options exist. 

If your aging or differently-abled loved one needs some help managing, powers of attorney, advanced care directives, a care coordinator, or in-home care assistant might be solutions, depending on their needs and condition. 

Parents and families trying to find substitutes can consider the delegation of parental authority or even a temporary guardianship. A temporary guardianship terminates after six months. A delegation can also have a set end date, or a parent can revoke it at any time.

  1. “Title 15: Probate, Trusts, and Fiduciaries.” Colorado Legal Resources Provided by LexisNexis.

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